Wednesday, 18 July, 2018 - 14:35

A “Hichki” Moment: Delhi’s ‘Happiness Curriculum’.

Directed by Sidharth Malhotra, the motion-picture “Hichki” sees high-profile actor Rani Mukerji play protagonist Naina Mathur, a character that suffers from Tourette’s syndrome as she pursues her dream to become a successful, inspirational teacher at St. Notker’s High School. Challenges loom from the outset as Naina must teach a group of children from slum areas who are discriminated against within the school and in wider society. A good teacher inspires, and Naina does so through her creative, interactive pedagogy. Through encouraging her students to channel their energies in a positive direction and by engaging in their everyday, personal lives, she demonstrates that education is indeed the arena of the universal, one where students can spread their wings – “khol de par”. Excellence, therefore, has its foundation in happiness. With faith, trust and access to equal opportunities, students are able to make the transition to an ‘I Can’ mindset. This motion-picture, when considered alongside the Delhi Government’s recent announcement of a new ‘Happiness Curriculum’, does suggest that there are some active efforts underway to rethink Indian education. Perhaps, these are the foundations from which a real, positive “Hichki” (hiccup) will emerge.

Devised by a team of forty Delhi government teachers, educators and volunteers over a six-month period, it is expected that the ‘Happiness Curriculum’ will involve one million students and around fifty-thousand teachers across Delhi government schools. Critically, the Delhi Government’s ‘Happiness Curriculum’ will be purely activity-based, with no formal examinations being conducted. Rather, achievement will be measured through a happiness index. Furthermore, the focus will be on the child’s self-awareness and capacity to think both creatively and critically. The aim will be to engage students up to Class 8 in a daily practice of meditation followed by both physical and mental-health exercises, story-telling with a focus on values, reflective questions, and, a range of activities for rapport building including the creation of a ‘Gratitude Wall’ to reflect a sense of the common good.

In the words of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the ambition is to encourage a holistic approach to education in order to build “healthy minds” and “good human beings”. Furthermore, as Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia notes, if schools are able to deliver a “human centric education”, this opens a pathway to tackle the problems facing modern Indian society at large, such as “terrorism, corruption and pollution.” For the Delhi Government, this is an opportunity to enhance the personality of its children and shape the direction that its society is heading. Indeed, the Delhi Government has made it known that it wishes to discard a long-held rote-learning method in order to build a critical-thinking “identity informed by concerns within the democratic polity of the country.” Perhaps, this ambition, if realised, could be understood as a successful implementation of global education. Indeed, the nation of India itself is built upon the idea and the reality of plurality in culture; it is a microcosm of the global. Therefore, if the youth of the largest democracy in the world do emerge as compassionate critical thinkers, the Indian nation could truly reflect the ideas of universality, inclusivity, and, emancipation that found global citizenship. A task, however, that promises to be difficult for it will have to confront the political rise of right-wing nationalism.

At the launch of the Happiness Curriculum, the Dalai Lama proclaimed that modern education, internationally, is too focused on “material values and has nothing to offer regarding inner peace”. Yet, as he notes, if India reflects upon its ancient principles of virtue and the ideas of its twentieth-century thinkers, the future may be somewhat brighter. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi promoted an education that would apply to the entirety of a person (mind, body and spirit); a complete understanding of oneself and one’s role in the collective is to be made possible – a realisation of swaraj.  Meanwhile, Rabindranath Tagore believed education should be an organic endeavour connected with the truths of nature and built upon an aesthetic development of the senses through an engagement with the arts. This all suggests that thinking creatively about education has modern intellectual lineage in India which has yet to achieve its potential. If this program does deliver on the promise of ethical learning, the Dalai Lama’s prophecy – that India will become a “modern guru” of global education if it engages with the emotional crisis of modernity – may start to take real shape. Perhaps, a radical sense of educational change is calling after all: “koi laage hichki”.

Written by Kushal Sohal, UCL Undergraduate Reading History.
Kushal is volunteering for ANGEL during the summer, and is interested in exploring the idea of a ‘global ethic’ and how this can take centre-stage in education curriculums internationally. He is also working on his own project, ‘In Conversation with the Global’, through which he is engaging with an array of ideas on the ‘global’ concept in order to build an understanding of how we can share a sense of belonging in difference. 

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